CHICAGO - There were several key moments during yesterday's 8-5 loss that could only leave the Nationals shrugging their shoulders in disbelief, plays simply just out of their reach and plays that just underscored how good (and perhaps fortunate) the Cubs have been during their record 23-6 start to the season.
There was, however, one very significant play that was entirely the Nationals' fault, one for which no excuse would suffice: a botched safety squeeze that turned into a double play.
It occurred in the top of the sixth, with the Nationals having recently taken a 4-2 lead and threatening to tack on. Stephen Drew had just roped an RBI double to right-center field and then advanced to third on Jose Lobaton's groundout to first. With one out, Gio Gonzalez came to the plate.
The call from the dugout was a simple one: a safety squeeze. Gonzalez would try to get the bunt down, and then Drew would decide whether to try to score or not based on where the ball landed.
"If the bunt gets down, you go," manager Dusty Baker said. "We thought we'd have action on going, and it's a judgment thing."
Trouble is, Gonzalez's bunt landed only a couple of feet in front of the plate. And worse, Drew got caught in no-man's land, too far down the line to make it back to third base, not far enough to score.
"We were trying to get down the line really far, took two hard steps," Drew said. "The way the ball was bunted, it was kind of too late, because it was right at him. Trying to see it down. I would have liked for it to be a little further out. I take the blame for that. Trying to get a good read on it, plus trying to eat up some ground, if you take two hard steps, you're pretty much done the way the ball ended up right there."
The Cubs got Drew in a rundown, and he eventually was tagged out after forcing them to make a couple of throws. Meantime, Gonzalez had made it to first base, looked back to see Chicago's defense preoccupied with Drew and decided to try to advance to second base.
He was far too late for that mad dash, though. Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, after tagging Drew, fired to Ben Zobrist, who had Gonzalez dead to rights for a killer double play that ended the inning and left the Nationals embarrassed.
"That's on me," Gonzalez said.
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